The Poetry of Lindsay Essay - Critical Essays

Vachel Lindsay

Critical Evaluation

No complete collection of Vachel Lindsay’s poetry has ever been published, nor does it seem likely that this would be a profitable venture for publisher, reader, or scholar. The vogue for this poet died out even before his death; the excellent collections of selected poetry and anthologies contain all that is likely to survive; and a consensus among scholars has already been established—Lindsay was a vital minor poet whose interesting experiments and some fifty poems will be remembered.

Setting aside his earliest poems, including the famous “Rhymes to be Traded for Bread,” and his late ones, excluding “Johnny Appleseed,” the critical reader will find a corpus of poetry which, if no longer startling, is at least substantial. These first collections sometimes include sketches which do not illuminate and poems without substance; they were a part of the poet’s years when he considered himself a traveling mystic, an artist-writer with a rather vague creed based loosely on Swedenborgian philosophy. His later years before his suicide were clouded over by a despondency which the poems reflect.

In January, 1913, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse published “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” published in book form later that year along with other poems by the same author. The immediate—and lasting—popularity of this poem is justified, perhaps more so than that of the familiarly anthologized “The Congo.” With cues for instruments and singing, the writer’s very real tribute to the religious leader is a studied cacophony which ends in deep reverence:

And when Booth halted by the curb forprayerHe saw his Master thro’ the flag-filledair.Christ came gently with a robe andcrownFor Booth the soldier, while the throngknelt down.He saw King Jesus. They were face toface,And he knelt a-weeping in that holyplace.Are...

(The entire section is 932 words.)